‘Bring your friends,’ Portage museum leaders say

August 8, 2018

Never assume one visit is enough, say the leaders of Museum at the Portage.

Offerings at the city museum get updated regularly and appeal to visitors of all ages and backgrounds, Melody Brooks-Taylor said Tuesday prior to hosting more than 30 Portage Area Chamber of Commerce members for a luncheon. Attendees learned from history buffs Dave and Judy Eulberg how staple exhibits at the museum share the history of the Portage Canal, the railroad industry, curling, old homes and more.

One of the new exhibits honors the 100th anniversary of World War I and features vintage combat uniforms, items like canteens, backpacks and a gas mask — complete with a book of vintage photographs, they said. Another exhibit features costumes worn by the late Croatian belly dancer Jack Kos, who long ago had moved to Portage to escape communist rule.

One-time users of the museum wouldn’t know what they’re missing.

“More than anything we want people to know this is their museum. This is for them,” said Brooks-Taylor, who is in her second year as executive director of the museum. “We are always looking for ways to involve the community and spark interest, and we’re constantly looking for volunteers to help us organize collections and catalog items.

“Please,” she continued, “bring your friends whenever they come to town.”

On average, the museum sees about 10 visitors per day throughout the summer months, estimated Judy Eulberg, who is one of the docents at Museum of the Portage.

Annual sponsorship of the Portage Historical Society that runs the museum this year climbed from about 100 to 130 members, noted Dave Eulberg, the group’s treasurer. Membership fees start at $20 per year and help the museum to maintain and boost offerings. The museum also receives “tremendous” support from the city, he added, which owns the building and cares for its exterior.

In addition to family-friendly exhibits, leaders say the museum offers visitors a revamped rose garden, tours for area schools, assistance in genealogical research and information about local sites.

“Almost every week somebody calls for information about a house or building or business in town,” Brooks-Taylor said. “People want to see what these places looked like back in the day, and we help them whenever we can.”

Marianne Hanson, the Chamber’s executive director, noted how a woman from Iowa stopped in at the Chamber recently in search of more information about her grandmother who had lived in Portage.

The chamber sent her to the museum and library, as it often does, Hanson said. “The museum is an attraction in Portage. The board and its volunteers do a great job of making it one.

“People from other communities come here wanting to know more about Portage, and then they do because of the resources we have.”

Upcoming special events at the museum include informative sessions about Friendship Village during Zona Gale Days at 10 a.m. Aug. 18; early history of Portage at 6 p.m. Sept. 12 – on the night members get honored at the museum; and the history of the Portage Fire Department at 6 p.m. Oct. 10.

“People can come and visit us as many times as they want because we don’t charge admission,” Judy Eulberg said. “If they only have a half-hour, come for a half-hour. But a full hour is usually better.”

Visitors might be interested in the history of the building that houses the museum as well, she said. It started as the home of William Breese, who married famous author and playwright Zona Gale in 1928. In 1944, he donated the home to the city of Portage, and the building then served as the city’s public library for the next 50 years. The Portage Historical Society acquired the home in 1994, and the museum opened not long after.

“It is always nice to be reminded of how important these places and people were and what it means about who we are, even as a country,” Judy Eulberg said. “There’s value in the place you live in.”

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